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6 Nov, 2008 17:09

Russia hopes to avoid arms race despite Western fears

Russia may deploy missiles in its most western region of Kaliningrad in response to the U.S. anti-missile defence plans in Europe. The announcement was followed by a wave of criticism from Western leaders. But some analy

With a new administration coming into power in the U.S., it remains to be seen whether Barack Obama will pursue Bush’s policy of deploying AMD elements in Poland and the Czech Republic – or remember Russia’s suggestion to set up an alternative anti-missile system in Azerbaijan.

In June 2007 Vladimir Putin proposed to George W. Bush that the two countries could jointly use a radar station in Gabala, which Russia rents from Azerbaijan, and a new radar under construction in Russia’s southern city of Armavir. 

Back then Bush diplomatically hailed the idea – but made it clear the U.S. won’t renounce its plans. The result was the signing of an agreement with the Czech Republic and Poland in summer 2008 for deploying AMD elements on their territories.

Obama has not yet voiced his view on the subject, but there are already voices among America’s intellectual elite that the U.S. needs to change its foreign policy.

Ted Carpenter from the Cato Institute in Washington DC believes the United States needs to significantly cut its military spending “so it does not have the kind of military capability that frightens other countries.”

“The U.S. also has to avoid taking steps that needlessly antogonise other countries. In particular with Russia it is imperative that the United States abandons its goal of expansion of the NATO alliance and to abandon such projects as the missile defence system that it has proposed for Eastern and Western Europe.”

For the time being, the United States says it is disappointed with Russia's intentions. The Pentagon has stated it will continue with the AMD plans and that its position remains the same.

Nevertheless, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack made assurances that Washington is open for dialogue with Moscow.

And despite strong words from President Medvedev some experts believe this is just a bargaining tactic ahead of his first meeting with Obama next week at the summit in Washington.

Political analyst Vladimir Kuzin said: “The placement of the conventional missile Iskander has not been started yet, so before November 15, Moscow and Washington have some time to think it over.”

According to President Medvedev’s aide, Arkady Dvorkovich, consultations are taking place with George W. Bush and president-elect Barack Obama concerning their bilateral meetings with Medvedev in Washington, but no arrangement has yet been reached.

International reaction

German Vice-Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed concern that the deployment of Iskander would lead to a new arms race.

He said: “President Medvedev's comments are certainly the wrong signal at the wrong time. Just as in the past, I called on the U.S. administration to seek dialogue with Russia. In the case of missile defence, it is necessary that Russia recognises the opportunity to seek dialogue with the U.S. so as not to set any new arms race in motion here in Europe. This is important.”

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU Commissioner for External Relations, shares Germany’s position.

“The deployment of missiles in Kaliningrad will not improve security in Europe. I am asking myself how such statements are compatible with a new security strategy in Europe proposed by the Russian president,” he said.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk sees Medvedev’s statement as an indication of Russia’s new aggressive policy.

“In the event that the situation gets bad, the balance of power is already well known,” he said. “So we should consider the announcement as a new political step, not a military one”.

Iskander missile complex

The short-range missile complex, which could be set up in Kaliningrad, is capable of striking targets at a range of up to 300 kilometres. With the deployment of the system in Russia's exclave on the Baltic Sea, the territories of the Czech Republic, Poland and the Baltic States would be within striking distance of Russia.

Kaliningrad borders NATO and EU members Poland and Lithuania.